Laying the foundation for future research growth

The Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) is quickly achieving its vision of becoming a world-class center of excellence in health research. UVRI is a key source of expertise for many of the country’s infectious disease functions, including outbreak investigation, clinical trials, scientific research and laboratory science. The Ministry of Health is increasingly looking to UVRI for quality data, not only on viral diseases but also tuberculosis, malaria, and other non-viral diseases, including cancers among persons infected wtih HiV and hepatitis B and metabolic effects of HIV therapy.  Since 1986, UVRI has been involved in HIV research with substantial contributions to the global knowledge base on HIV/AIDS. 

"Our experience shows that modest investments, when effectively and efficiently utilized, can have a huge multiplier effect with enormous dividends." —UVRI Director Edward Mbidde
Over the past four years, IANPHI has underwritten development of a resource center, strategic plan, telephone system, and a Research Support Office to increase UVRI’s capacity to manage, coordinate and execute large projects. Pro-bono technical assistance from the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) has been crucial to the project.  As a result, UVRI is stronger today and becoming a model for the region as UVRI's forward-looking leadership has successfully "multiplied" the impact of IANPHI grants and partnerships. 

The initial IANPHI grant enabled UVRI to develop core capacities, skills, and knowledge that have leveraged additional resources and collaborative opportunities--about $16 million in grants from external partners between 2008 and 2011. With its new strategic plan, UVRI has attracted funds from many sources and developed or enhanced partnerships with some of the world's leading scientific institutions. 

IAMPIThe staff at UVRI has grown considerably since the first IANPHI grant to UVRI, with new positions including a deputy director as well as research officers, grants support staff, and lab assistants. UVRI staff teach at Makerere University and supervise students who come to UVRI for apprenticeships in such areas as counseling and community development.  To interest young people in science careers UVRI has held "open days" for some 2,700 university students, sending some on master's scholarships to attend the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and South Africa universities. UVRI  provided five-day training for laboratory staff on quality HIV testing. UVRI is a founding member of the newly constituted East-African Consortium for Clinical Research (EACCR), a network of 34 regional institutions from five countries and their northern partners, which focuses on workforce development, infrastructure upgrades, project management strengthening, and development and implementation of north-south and south-south collaborative efforts in support of communicable disease control. In addition, continuing investments by IANPHI and other partners are taking UVRI to new levels in reference laboratory, epidemiology, grant management, and research capacity. 
IANPHI's latest grant to UVRI—about $150,000, awarded in August 2011— will provide support for the physical and human resources recently incorporated into UVRI, lay the foundation for further growth, and support the developing culture of leadership and mentorship in health research in developing countries, especially Africa. For example, within the past four years, UVRI has added new facilities, including totally refurbishing BSL2 and BSL3 laboratories funded by CDC and WHO and a resource center funded by IANPHI. These substantial additions to facilities and staff have heightened ongoing needs for a secure power supply for UVRI and greater internet capacity. IT infrastructure is limited and hinders scientific productivity and excellence. The current servers are at capacity, and air-conditioning is needed to keep the server room cool to ensure proper functioning. Another major concern is the lack of a reliable source of water in the event of a fire, necessitating the purchase of a dedicated fire tank. Maintenance staff need tools to repair scientific equipment, refrigerators in the labs, and other basic equpment. In addition, as scientists at UVRI participate in larger and more complex projects with more prestigious researchers, they are increasingly recognizing the gaps in training and tools such as computer software. Their aspirations to embrace a culture of leadership and mentorship in research also require training and support. 

UVRI and IANPHI are  partnering on these and other issues to keep the institute moving forward on a projectory to become a world-class center of excellence. UVRI envisions having the capacity to provide financial, management, and leadership support for regional collaborative efforts.